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As the competition for new clients intensifies, creative business development is becoming the name of the game. Small law firms that are building their marketing efforts need to be sure that they aren’t doing themselves a disservice by not taking advantage of some of the more basic tools. One such tool is a law firm newsletter. A newsletter can be a very effective way to raise your firm’s profile. It helps maintain client relationships and informs readers of legislative changes — about which they will, ideally, seek your counsel. A newsletter’s content, of course, will vary depending on the practice and the intended audience. However, here are some general guidelines: Coverage: If you are uncertain about readers’ expectations, conduct a survey. Keep it simple and focus on preferences regarding content, length and distribution method. It’s always a good idea to include firm announcements, profiles of attorneys and news briefs on breaking legislation or events. Audience: Develop a mailing list from an in-house list of established and potential clients. Create a sign-up form on your Web site and assure anyone who registers that you will protect the privacy of the information they provide. Finally, be sure to include instructions on how to unsubscribe in each newsletter. Note: don’t succumb to the temptation to send unsolicited e-mail using purchased lists. Format: As a rule of thumb, it’s best to keep articles short — 250-450 words. Break up the text by using graphics, numbers, etc. and be sure to simplify any legalese. Tone: Be cautious not to oversell the firm. Some prospective clients will make judgments based solely on your newsletter. A key objective is to remind readers of your services as well as to educate, inform and promote. But promotion does not mean a hard sell, which can wind up discouraging inquiries. Aim for 80 percent content and 20 percent soft sell. An example of a soft sell might be incentives or discounts given to clients who refer new business. Richardson Patrick Westbrook & Brickman, a torts firm in Charleston, S.C., in 2004 began issuing Disclosure, a quarterly newsletter that is designed and assembled by an outside ad agency. Readers are typically other lawyers with whom the firm has worked given that about 95 percent of the firm’s mass tort cases are referred by other lawyers. The newsletter provides news, statistics and information on the latest causes of action. A recent issue opened with a story on Zyprexa, the top-selling schizophrenia drug that was recently linked to diabetes. That article generated a number of calls and led to partnerships with co-counsel on cases involving the drug, according to lawyers at Patrick Westbrook. Family Matters, a newsletter from Los Angeles’ nine-lawyer Phillips Lerner & Lauzon, includes articles written by various professionals. For example, a recent issue included an accountant’s guidance on the tax treatment of stock options that must be divvied up in a divorce. A newsletter’s organization, structure and tone will be driven by the content and target audience. Pamela Ringquist was hired three years ago as marketing director for Williams Parker Harrison Dietz & Getzen in Sarasota, Fla. One of her first tasks was to create a newsletter for the 46-attorney firm. She developed The Legal Update, which has a section for each division of the firm: real estate, business, estate trusts and litigation. Sometimes a single newsletter may not be enough. Michaud Buschmann Mittelmark Millian Blitz Warren & Coel in Boca Raton, Fla., has two divisions. One represents doctors against malpractice claims, where insurers have an interest, while the other represents doctors in contractual and regulatory matters. The 15-attorney firm publishes two quarterly newsletters. The Medical Malpractice Monitor, which includes articles on malpractice issues, is sent to about 1,000 doctors and another 200 or so insurance claims adjusters. The other newsletter, Health Law Trends, includes articles on statutory changes governing medical practices and is sent only to the doctors. There is no consensus about whether a newsletter should be distributed as a hard copy, via e-mail or both. Marketing experts say that the delivery format depends on the working styles of the recipients. Many firms use an e-newsletter format that includes regular distribution plus quick-hit bulletins that alert readers to breaking news. But if you choose to send out electronic newsletters, do not send attachments or e-mails that contain special formatting such as RTF or HTML files unless you know that your readers want the information in these formats. If in doubt, offer your readers their choice of versions. Michaud Buschmann discovered that although it was cheaper to e-mail newsletters, many of the doctors on their circulation lists preferred hard copies. In addition, e-mail limits the ability to convey the firm’s image through sophisticated packaging. How effective are newsletters? It’s almost impossible to measure, says Malcolm Crossland, a member of The Steinberg Law Firm, a workers’ compensation outfit based in Charleston. “I simply have a gut feeling that it’s working,” he says of his firm’s newsletter, In Brief, which has been distributed for nearly five years. In the end, for a newsletter to be most effective, you’ll need to establish a publication schedule and stick to it. A newsletter can only become a useful resource if readers can rely on consistent delivery. Paramjit Mahli is the managing director of Sun Communications, a marketing and public relations company in New York City.

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